Through The Lens Of: Tom J Johnson

Inspired by the purity of both, nature and romanticism, British photography talent Tom J Johnson's work shows his deep passion for the subject. Each photo he takes reflects a strong energy, narrative and personality. Although Tom is still a student at Falmouth University in Cornwall, he has already built an impressive portfolio and following, having worked with brands like Sensory Trust, Stefan Lange Design and Astræa. 

This Thursday we will also be welcoming Tom at our studio in Covent Garden at Larsson & Jennings' photography walk & talk! Besides Nepalese Australian photographer @nizzah, Tom a.k.a. @luna.tides will both talk about their best practices, inspiration and work.

Read our exclusive interview with Tom below!

Who is Tom J Johnson?

Growing up in the heart of the Mendips, Somerset, I'm a fashion, portrait and editorial photographer heavily influenced by romanticism and the outdoors.

With a keen interest in the performing arts, influencing my own background, I love working with musicians, dancers, actors and anyone who can bring their own narratives and stories to set. I'm still a student so my time is heavily split between shooting in and around London and studying in Falmouth on the stunning Cornish coast.

What moment made you fall in love with photography?

I really fell in love with photography when I started my GCSEs towards the end of 2014. I really loved art at the beginning of secondary school and studied it as one of my GCSE subjects. However, I’ve always found painting frustrating as I couldn't realise the images I had in my mind on paper. We had one module that allowed us to use photographs we'd taken as studies for painting. It was this photographic element that showed me that the camera gave me the ability to create these images where, for me a brush couldn't! From then on I’ve loved how photography has the ability to bring images to life in my mind’s eye. Nowadays with such intricate and powerful editing software I can take these images a step further into a world outside of our own.

It's this ability to make photographs seem unlike reality that really makes photography appeal to me. It’s a form of escapism. The ability to create something unlike anything we'd see day to day.

Emanuelle Alli for W Model Management by Tom J Johnson

What and/or who inspires your work?

My work is inspired by a multitude of things.

Having grown up surrounded by countryside & having nature as my easily accessible shooting location, it became a consistent feature in my images. Probably due to these early influences, I now find myself returning to shooting with natural light with a preference for using locations for my work over a studio, although I do love a good natural light studio too!

Ive always been an avid reader and as a child I loved books such as "Wind in the Willows" and stories by Beatrix Potter where similarly, the narratives in these stories are heavily driven by the natural world. I'm also heavily inspired by the performing arts, particularly ballet, so you can imagine how excited I was when I attended an exhibition of the Royal Ballet's performance, "Tales of Beatrix Potter". I love the narratives that performers bring to set and the way they can convey these through images without me needing to give much direction; I love the collaboration that is created as a result of this.

I'm also inspired by writing and poetry, I love the romanticism of words and the way they evoke such strong imagery and feeling in people and I often like to create images that are based on certain phrases and seeing whether I can evoke similar feelings. Pre-raphaelite, renaissance and romantic paintings are a big influence in my work, again with the use of nature, natural mood lighting and the narratives that are often explored through the subjects in the paintings. I treat my editing and post production process as more of a painting session than a retouching one.  I like to paint with the adjustments and layer up the colour grading on an image until it's just right.

Finally, I'm inspired by other creatives and photographers. Portraiture photographer Jason Bell is a huge inspiration. I've had the honour of both interviewing and shadowing him. Jason always manages to capture the personalities and stories of his subjects so beautifully.

What is your favourite part about standing behind the camera?

My favourite part would be the excitement of collaboration. There is no better buzz than being on set with a great team where everyone is bouncing ideas off each other and everyone feels genuinely excited about the images we're creating. It makes for a much more relaxed and fun atmosphere which I believe is vital for creating images! Shoots shouldn't be stressful or tense; at the end of the day, we're creating images and expressing ourselves or a concept creatively and it should be an exciting opportunity for experimentation! I also love the unpredictability of photography.

Sometimes, not planning a shoot at all can produce the best pictures. It lets you shoot without prior expectations of what you need to capture and sometimes this can be the most rewarding experience! At the AW18 shows at London Fashion Week, I was shooting one runway show where the hair of the photographer in front of me in the pit, obscured my lens slightly and threw off the tracking auto focus of my camera. This resulted in a very sharp photo of the model but defocussed and quite blurred shimmers from the sequins on the dress. It was one of my favourite shots from the week. Although I wouldn’t know how to recreate it, had this accident not happened!

Which interesting people did you get to work with?

I've been fortunate enough to work with a variety of incredibly talented people. Connections made through my Instagram account have been invaluable. I also enjoy working on regular projects with the Sensory Trust, documenting their workshops and group sessions all over Cornwall. Sometimes it's hard to remember to take photos because I get distracted, chatting with such interesting and wonderful people!

Astrid S by Tom J Johnson

How do you make a picture come to life?

For me, making a picture come to life relies very much on the relationship between the photographer and the subject or rapport with the model. Having the model feel comfortable often makes for much more captivating shots. Where there's a clear connection with the lens & a relaxed demeanour from the model it can often be felt by the person viewing the pictures. Technically, I also think making a photo come to life can be reliant on aspects of the composition, the mise en scène, and direction of the model, all of which can be used to establish energy (like through the use of diagonals) or stories which can help to engage a viewer and give them the opportunity to unpick and read an image in a way that brings the photo to life in their mind.

What does travel and exploration mean to you?

Travel and exploration to me is a huge aspect of my practice. Without travel, I'd never have been able to work with some of the amazing people I work with in London, and exploration comes into play every time I'm trying to location scout as a non-local for areas in London to shoot. Furthermore, having been working with the Sensory Trust, I get many opportunities to travel to beautiful locations all over Cornwall, many of which have become some of my favourite personal haunts.

Travel and exploration to me means the ability to widen and deepen your vision and approach to life. I couldn't imagine staying put my whole life, being ignorant to the many different worldwide communities, places and individuals living wholly unique lives. Travel and exploration allows you to learn all of these things, to broaden your understanding of the world and develop a much more loving outlook and wider sense of empathy, something we really need in today's world.

In what way is your work influenced by nature and romanticism?

Nature plays a huge role in the creation of concept for my shoots. Usually I try to match models to locations. I like to create images that I think show the connection that we have to nature and where we originate, having a model who feels at home in nature feels natural to me. I've always found romantic themes to be really calming and endearing, from paintings to poetry to music. So having it as an influence in my own work just felt natural and exciting for me.

"Travel and exploration to me means the ability to widen and deepen your vision and approach to life."

Danny Fogarty by Tom J Johnson

Black and white, or colour?

This is a really tough one. I find that both black and white and colour can bring wholly unique feelings to an image. It really depends on the photograph for me, sometimes black and white can place much more focus on detail and bring out much stronger sentiments and connections in an image. On the other hand, colour can be used to manipulate the feeling of an image and influence the viewer.

What’s up next on your career bucket list?

I'm hoping to start working on a photo book soon, documenting one very broad project. Something for the coffee table. At the top of the list though would be landing my first cover, this would be a very big and defining moment for me in terms of my own goals.

Jetta for tmrw mag, issue 27 by Tom J Johnson

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